the solstice to equinox project

I am at a point with my work-in-progress — all of my works in progress, but especially with what I’ve been calling The Lost Cause Project (aka “Charlottesville”) — that I need to concentrate. Both focus and concentration have been hard to maintain since 2020 and the onset of the pandemic — I am not alone in this, I know — and I need to do better if I ever want to finish this book. I think now I can.

I’ve had stretches of incredible concentration but they don’t last — sections of this book grab me (and my editor) from word one. I know they are good. I have sections I’m in love with that I don’t want to let go of but think I must (sob!). I have a brand-new section that begs several questions: is there a time slip? Is this meta-fiction? Are there ghosts? Who cares? At that point, I run from the manuscript screaming. Maybe you can relate?

As a result (and don’t forget: pandemic brain, sigh — I can also pull other (very-valid!) excuses reasons out of a bag of tricks) I’ve been wifty and vague about my structure and my subject matter for… well, for years. I think part of it has been a protective shield as well… this material is… a lot.

When I was sick or depressed, I researched (or slept :>). I began again a dozen times at least. I have so many partial drafts. I’ve confabbed with my (long-suffering?) editor and I have a couple of trusted readers who have weighed in as well, and I have decided — finally — on the way forward. (I think.)

Now to get there. I’m going to start today, June 20, the summer solstice 2024, and work forward with intention until the fall equinox on September 22. I will have the entire summer this way, to write about the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in summer 2017, using all the material I’ve amassed and the too-many partial drafts and beginnings I’ve composed.

Then I’m packing up what I have (oh please could I have a full draft?) and sending it to my editor.

I’m hoping to keep myself accountable by writing about this endeavor consistently for the next 13 weeks and 3 days (how often? I don’t know), entries about what I’m accomplishing (and not), and how I want to set up the next day’s work. And what else is brewing. I’m going to use this as a map to keep going and get to the end.

I’m not sure I’ll “announce” this anywhere, or if I’ll take these blog posts private, but for now, here at my website blog, I’m starting. I’m drawing a line in the sand that says, distraction (well, distraction of the pandemic type) is no longer entertained here. It’s time for discipline (hahahahaha) and devotion (I have that in spades) and a deadline (self-imposed).

Gaaaaa, I can already feel the mental/emotional push-back. This is such a hard book to write, maybe the hardest I’ve ever tackled.  I *want* to finish it. I am determined to write it. It needs to be written, and I am absolutely steeped in it now. I grew up in the lap of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. How can I not finish it? The book is under contract with Scholastic and I will deliver it. I won’t deliver a substandard product (product, heh). So… let’s get to work.

I know it can be a good book. I know I have been all over the place with it. I know it’s a huge topic. I know I am (still) half-afraid of it. Maybe more than half. Maybe that’s a good thing. I know, I know, I know.

I invite you to come along. Humans always want a witness to their follies and fortunes and failures. We need cheerleaders, too, and commiserators. :> And if this isn’t your bag, it’s perfectly fine to ignore me for the next 13 weeks and 3 days. I might prefer to be ignored… this is really an accountability journal for me, and in a way I am just as unsure about this attempt as I have been about everything else this past four years.

Everything has felt really fraught, hasn’t it? The world is fraught and overwrought and I am writing about an event (and a mindset) that is intense and emotionally charged. It’s scary.

But I have grit. That I do have. I am going to find my strength in this story. How do I know? I have been there, in that geography, in the belly of the Lost Cause beast, and at the heart of its grief, and now I’ll tell you about it.

I’ve been collecting oral histories of the Battle of Resaca, part of Sherman’s campaign to capture the city of Atlanta and win the South for the Union in the Civil War. This snippet is from Daniel Ransdell, who fought with the Seventieth Indiana Regiment, commanded by Colonel Benjamin Harrison, who would become the 23rd president of the United States.

Ransdell became sergeant at arms for the Senate, from 1900 to 1912. From “On May 15, 1864, while advancing with Union troops on Atlanta, Georgia, he suffered the loss of his right arm in an engagement that produced more than ten thousand Union and Confederate casualties.”

I have gone down several rabbit holes while writing this current book, including this one about the carnage of battle in the Civil War, from the viewpoint of the soldiers who lived through it. I’ve been juxtaposing this history against the carnage in Charlottesville in 2017, in Charleston in 2015, in battle after battle through the years in which citizens of the United States fight themselves. I want to understand why we do it. Maybe that’s not even the point. I lose track of the point.

Then comes a day like Thursday this week when a former president of the United States is convicted of 34 felony counts and I hear Harry Litman, a former law clerk to Thurgood Marshall and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General say, “Today the Republic held” and I think: that’s the point. That’s what I’m writing about — the Republic for which we stand. One nation. With liberty and justice for all.

I seem to write about war a lot, in my effort to write about the importance of peace. Countdown is about the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War; Revolution is about Freedom Summer; Anthem has as its strong undercurrent the Vietnam War, which is also the flash-point for Kent State. My books Freedom Summer and The Aurora County All-Stars both pivot on the Civil Rights Movement, another war we fought against ourselves and the better angels of our nature, to use Lincoln’s phrase from his first inaugural address in 1861, words spoken as seven Southern states had already seceeded from the Union.

I don’t know. I vacillate, with this current book, between knowing I am in way over my head, to the sure knowledge that I know exactly what I am doing. I have been to the Confederate cemetery at Resaca, Georgia. I dreamed about the Battle of Resaca last night. I woke up thinking about the impossibility of imparting to young adult readers the foundations of democracy, the blood shed for its continuance, the responsibilities of citizenship, and the importance of voting. So unsexy. But so vital. Which, I guess, is why I continue to write about these things. I don’t want to lose hope.

Musing on a Saturday morning. #thelostcauseproject #charlottesville2017 #amwriting #wip